Church of Christ – Challenges of the Future

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What I am about to type here I think has BIG implications for the future of the churches of Christ. If you are a part of our fellowship I hope you will read this and think about it and discuss it with an eye toward the future and what we can do to really light a fire under our congregations and press forward. There are a couple of things that I think need to be discussed on a broader scale that can be achieved on a blog but I hope that posts like this will ignite a spark and get some dialogue going that will help us going forward.

1 – Our methods of evangelism used to presuppose people already knew something about Christianity and we were helping them understand our way was better than the Baptists, Methodists, etc. Today, way more people are unchurched. They may be 30 years old and never been to church before in their lives. People used to be drawn to the Church of Christ because of our doctrine and appeal to the NT as the standard. Doctrine is no longer going to get very many people in the door. Evangelism has to start with people knowing you care and seeing the church making an impact on the community. I have decided we would often do better spending as much time serving the community as we spend in a Bible class because often the ideas expressed in Bible class are not really doing much more than changing opinions rather than changing hearts.

2 – We have an identity crisis. We used to know who we are. Worst case scenario was “we are the only ones going to heaven.” Thankfully that has changed and you don’t hear that really any more but now what? Who are we? Where are we headed? What are we doing and why? It seems like we have an identity void that has to be thought through, prayed about, and a better vision cast for our future or else we are going to struggle to have a meaningful existence in the next 50 years.

3 – We have made the little issues the big issues and the big issues the little issues. We have spent so much time defining leadership to know if a woman can pass a tray and little to no time discussing spiritual growth and development and implementing plans to help people mature beyond high school (which is, by the way the very time most people begin to fall away and yet only a small percentage of churches are addressing the college and young pro demographic). We have spent way too much time and money pushing for acappella worship. We get it already. We understand from history what happened and when and we have heard the psallo argument enough times. I sometimes wonder if people really don’t know what else there is to talk about.

4 – We have done a horrible job communicating within our fellowship. In an age of the information superhighway called the internet, email, blackberries, Iphones, telephones, pagers, cell phones, facebook, you name it…we really don’t communicate with each other very well. We can talk with each other and form some networks of communication and assist each other with ministry without imposing authority structures on other autonomous congregations and elderships.

There are more but I think these 4 are HUGE and have to be discussed if we want to push forward into the next 5 to 50 years and make a meaningful difference in the world. What would you identify as the key issues and how would you go about discussing these in an organized way rather than just in a circle of 5-20 bloggers?

0 Responses

  1. Matt, thanks for these thoughts, this discussion starter. A few responses:

    1. Agreed. In addition to its sectarian starting point, the old approach, where denominations were compared and contrasted, assumes a world that is rapidly shrinking. One of the things that that mindset could assume, given the context in which it operated, was that anyone who thought of himself as a Christian would already be on-track when it came to morals, ethics, piety. I like your expression “changing opinions rather than changing hearts.” That’s what we were typically about. In some cases, by changing the opinions of “denominationalists” we wound up with people in our congregations who, spiritually, were in better shape than those who had always been “right.” True to form, they loved us anyway.

    2. This point is inseparable from #1. If the Churches of Christ reason for being is something we no longer subscribe to, then now what? Mix in with Evangelicalism? It seems too late for that. If nothing else, we have to face up to the fact that we collapsed “salvation” under a view of the church that was focused on things like weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper and a plurality of qualified elders in every congregation. For better and for worse, we’ve wound up with what that sort of emphasis produces.

    3. Agreed. Churches of Christ have changed their minds a good bit. But if we now feel like we no longer have much to push for, then we’re stuck. In some cases, the new push is for the piety of the people who are already there (and their kids who stay with the tradition). That might make for better people, but it doesn’t increase their number, doesn’t feel like mission, etc.

    4. Don’t know exactly what I think about your assertion here. For one thing, it has to take into account that the nearly-absolute doctrinal consensus that used to characterize the movement has cracked if not disintegrated. (As soon as I say that, I think of how remarkably similar we still are). In some cases, congregations don’t say much to each other because they just don’t want to argue. If the 1950s and 60s was the kingdom under David and Solomon, then now it’s much more like the period of the Judges. We no don’t have a “king” so to speak. But then we know what kings are capable of.

  2. glad you don’t hear number 2 anymore, but I assure you it is alive and well in many places and with many people. Most just seem a little slower to say it out loud.

  3. At the outset let me say I actually come at this as a person with one foot in each of two branches of the movement. One in the instrumental churches, the other in the non-instrumental. That said, here are my faltering thoughts:

    1. Very true. I still remember being asked by folks at Harding “when did you first learn about the church.” This puzzled me, as a Christian churches guy. Shouldn’t they have been asking when I first found out about Jesus or the Good News? Nope. In the southern experience, most converts were brought over from active or nominal Baptist or other evangelical/protestant backgrounds. Now, to be fair, in Brazil I saw churches doing a pretty good job of presenting the basic elements of the Christian faith to people who knew viritually nothing to start with about the Bible, and we continue this work in New Jersey among Brazilians. I’d say this is a problem mostly of the American churches, not the rest of us.

    2. Good riddance to the old “one true church” attitude that was really nothing but sectarianism, but lets avoid pop evangelicalism. I hope people keep their minds intact as they engage heart and hands in the mission of God. How about going back to the plea of being Christians only, but not the only Christians? How about an identiy aligned with mission, not the church as an institution?

    3. This aspect of a cappella churches of Christ, looking for a pattern for EVERYTHING, is a matter of hermeneutics. It can only be addressed as such. The main thing, I think, will be for churches to begin to preach fully the Good News that Jesus is Lord in words but also in deeds. Focus on him and the unity of His church for the sake of mission.

    4. I laughed when I read this. I’ve been thinking lately about how well the Church of Christ folk get word around, online and in print. The Christian Churches, by contrast, have only one main magazine, “The Christian Standard,” that goes to the printer a few weeks before it is sent out. The news – what there is of it – is always stale by the time it comes out. The Christian Churches are in desperate need of some of the networking capability the Churches of Christ have. For Pete’s sake, I’ve been searching for months for Christian Churches blogs, and keep coming up with only church blogs and painfully few regular bloggers. I’ve found plenty of Churches of Christ and Disciples folks, though.

    Sorry for the long comment. Maybe I should blog on some of this.

  4. Adam,

    I appreciate your perspective on this. I think what you are saying is happening in the Brazilian churches is partly what needs to happen in the U.S. as our culture is becoming more and more “unchurched.”

  5. In Response to #3 and #2. The Church of Christ has always fully taught the Gospel will continue to do so where ever those “Who speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent “,can be found.That is our mission. Brothers in the faith I am afraid you are committing a grave error by straying from the Gospel of Christ and the Bibles authority. How can you consider those in the denominations even christians? The denominational Churches were established by men without authority from God. They seek to honor men by wearing their names instead of Christs name and practice things that are not found in the Bible. They basically do what they want to do regardless even if scripture says otherwise. If the Church of Christ ,the one and only church created by Christ begins preaching a false and corrupt Gospel the same as the denominations it would bring about devastating consequences. I would hate to have to stand before God and give an answer as to why I led people away from the truth.

  6. S,

    How can I consider those in denominations Christians? I believe any of them who are baptized believers who believe Jesus is the Son of God are just as much God’s children as I am. How can you deny them that? Can you say that because they play an instrument but who believe, have faith, have been baptized, are repentant, etc that they are not Christians? On what basis? Where do you find such an exclusive statement based on this practice in scripture? On the basis of “authorized worship” from Eph 5? Paul is not even talking about what is prescribed and what is not in worship in Eph 5 and yet you make that a line in the sand of who is a Christian and who is not? Speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent is a good rule of thumb but you cannot say if you don’t go by that interpretive system that you are going to hell. Someone who believed that would be a Pharisee by saying their traditions were binding on others for salvation. That whole interpretive system is skewed and misuses scripture. I think you are genuine and authentic but I think you and I both need to take another look at scripture and read passages in context.

    As far as wearing the names of men, I am sure if you asked them to choose between Lutheran or Christian I think they would chose the first. To mention things not prescribed by scripture that are practiced, in the church of Christ we have a whole list of those ourselves and so we have to be careful when we talk about that. We would just rather point the finger than admit that we do the same thing.

    I am not saying we need to add instruments or that we need to be unconcerned about doctrine. I do think we need to make the main thing, the main thing and start fighting the more expedient battle against Satan for the souls of non-believers, rather than spend all our time infighting with other Christians over fine tuned doctrines that require jumping through a series of interpretive and cultural hoops to understand.

    You cannot hear my tone as I type that but I type it with sincere love and respect for you.

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